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Do the U.S.and Israel Feed a World of Terror?

William M. Arkin / Washington Post | July 29 2006

Are Israel and the United States feeding a world of terrorism through their military conduct?

Yesterday, Israel's national security cabinet ruled out an expansion of ground operations, and Prime Minister Ehud Olmert said the operation was going according to plan, urging patience.

The war, Justice Minister Haim Ramon told Israeli radio, will continue "until Hezbollah won’t be located in Lebanon and until it is disarmed."

I'm sure the minister was referring to elimination of Hezbollah rockets and its ability to strike Israel through long-range means. But after the inability of the United States to "disarm" al Qaeda, the Taliban or the Iraqi insurgency in years of intense fighting, what makes Israel think, or assert, that it can achieve the same goal with Hezbollah?

Instead, Hezbollah has been elevated to the status of a legitimate military force, one that is able to withstand all that the vaunted Israeli Defense Force can throw at it, one that seemingly stands on the side of the civilian population, a force that can do what Arab governments won't or can't.

Israel can argue patience and success all it wants. What we are witnessing, nevertheless, is a complete reordering of the traditional lines between what is legitimate and what is not in warfare, between the notion of who protects the civilian population and who attacks it.

Here is my latest thumbnail sketch of the fight in the Lebanon war, based on Israeli sources and some U.S. intelligence and operations observers following the fighting:

More than 110 Hezbollah rockets landed in Israel Thursday, following Wednesday's launch of more than 150 rockets, Hezbollah's largest single-day total.

As of yesterday, the Israeli government says, Hezbollah has launched 1,402 rockets against Israel since July 12. That does not include additional artillery and mortar shells that have also landed inside Israel.

Fifty-two Israelis have been killed by Hezbollah to date, including 19 civilians. As of yesterday, Israeli authorities reported 1,262 wounded, including 46 who are still hospitalized.

Israeli responses to Hezbollah's continuing fire have included air strikes, counter-battery artillery fire and ground operations, concentrating on the southern border hills where Hezbollah fighters are entrenched.

Though the conventional ground forces are still limited to the one- to three-mile swath of Lebanese territory, clearing villages and isolating Hezbollah fighters, Israeli special forces are operating "in the depths of Lebanon trying to prevent ammunition from launching," according to an Israeli Defense Force general.

The IDF says aircraft conducted 90 attacks Thursday, targeting Hezbollah buildings and roads in the southern and the eastern parts of Lebanon.

Aircraft also attacked radio and television transmitter at Amchit, in the mountains 30 miles north of Beirut.

The attack at Amchit is part of the ongoing effort to take al-Manar Television, the satellite news channel partially run by Hezbollah, off the air. The Wall Street Journal has a fabulous article today ("Lebanese News Network Draws Fire As Arm Of Militant Group") explaining the role of al-Manar and the Israeli military objective in going after the Hezbollah station.

The station considers itself a voice to Shiites in Lebanon and throughout the region, and has been rallying support for Hezbollah, highlighting Israeli atrocities, labeling the United States the no. 1 terrorist country. In March, the U.S. Treasury Department designated al-Manar and its parent company, the Lebanese Media Group, terrorist entities, making it illegal for U.S. firms to do business with them. European satellite providers have also stopped carrying the al-Manar channel.

Israel first attacked al-Manar's headquarters in the Haret Hreik section of south Beirut on July 13. After the five-story headquarters was reduced to rubble, al-Manar shifted to mobile transmitters and alternate towers, hence the continuing game of cat and mouse to keep it off the air.

Is al-Manar a legitimate and lawful military target? Israel labels it "propaganda" and says yes; the United States and NATO tend to agree, having bombed state-run news media in Iraq, Afghanistan, and the former Yugoslavia. Human rights organizations also have generally agreed that media transmitters and stations can be attacked if they are inciting violence or involved in military command and control.

Legitimate or not, the bombing of al-Manar symbolizes an ancient "attrition" approach to dealing with an enemy: Hezbollah will be "disarmed" -- silenced -- one building or transmitter at a time, just as the organization, viewed as a conventional military force, will be disarmed and defeated fighter by fighter. And if the transmitter can't be bombed or jammed, if the communications' fabric can't be disabled, then the electrical power will be hit. If the electrical power can't be stopped, the fuel for the generators will be attacked, and then the roads and ports where the fuel originates. And on and on, until the people have no water, no sanitation, no operable medical equipment, etc.

Israel has started down this road of attrition, justifying each individual target as related to a bigger military objective of impeding Hezbollah command and control or re-supply or propaganda. The bombing and attacks naturally expand to a series of inter-locking civilian networks because that is how society has become structured. Civilian and "military" are intertwined when it comes to power and communications and fuel. Israel (and the United States) sees no inconsistency in attacking this civilian fabric, arguing that each element is being "used" for military purposes that the electrical power and the fuel and the television are lawful military targets as a result.

Thus the age-old distinction between military and civilian is eroded. No aspect of the civilian infrastructure is off-limits to Israeli attack. Hezbollah and others who take up arms outside of state structures long-ago rejected the military-civilian distinction, arguing that -- they do have arguments, you know -- the military powers, principally the United States and Israel, intentionally attack civilians. To Hezbollah, they are just retaliating.

In actual combat, in the age of precision weapons since the first Gulf War in 1991, at least in the long-range combat (airpower) that much of the world seems to find most objectionable, the number of civilians killed by the United States and Israel is extremely low by historic standards. In Lebanon, 430-plus civilians have now lost their lives, and the Lebanese health minister estimates there could be 150 to 200 more dead in the rubble.

What is more, if Israel were trying to kill civilians, or if it were really indifferent to civilian deaths, surely one can see that that number could be much higher.

Yet despite the individual efforts to spare civilians in micro attacks of this or that building or transmission tower or fuel tank, the state militaries fail in their obligation overall to protect civilians. Every time the state militaries justify attacks on civilian infrastructure, moreover, they convey the message that they do not recognize the distinction between the fighters and the population.

What is left is an impression of wanton killing and a lack of humanity. For Hezbollah adherents and sympathizers -- for most of the Arab world -- this might be the presumption to begin with, a presumption born not just of hate but of military conduct over the years.

More alarming though is that the boundaries of distinction even in the United States, even in the mainstream, are casually eroded. Warren Christopher, writing in today's Washington Post speaks, I'm sure inadvertently but nonetheless powerfully of Israel turning the Lebanese infrastructure "to dust," decrying the harm done the civilian population.

Dust is no longer an apt description of what happens when networks are attacked. Sure there is rubble and dust in each individual element and the news media tends to focus on that, but it is the fabric of society that is under attack by Israel, even if individual elements of that fabric sometimes go un-attacked yet are still inoperable because of systemic damage elsewhere.

These are the modern elements on which the civilian population depends. No longer immune to attack -- if they ever were -- the civilian population seeks some other means of protection, some other force that will strike back at those who seem intent on destroying day-to-day living and threatening the modern way of life.

Yesterday, Ayman al-Zawahiri released an extensive videotaped statement rejecting the world of cease-fires and calling for expansion of jihad against the crusaders of the west, from Iraq to Spain. ''We will attack everywhere,'' Zawahiri said. Everywhere. He gets it.

 

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